Day 47 & 48: I try baking. Curse you, Pinterest.

Happy August! 90% of my office left on holidays this week, so we’ve been trying to fit all the work in we need to do together into a very short time period. I’m going to miss the whole group. I baked some Italian almond cookies as a goodbye present/early happy-birthday-to-me last night. They’re goooood.

This goes out to all my friends who are on Pinterest, and have discovered for themselves that pins are never what they seem.

Cookies baking in the oven.

Cookies baking in the oven!

Except actually it looked like this because the pan was too big to close the door all the way.

Except actually it looked like this because the pan was too big to close the door all the way.

And then I realize that my oven is in centigrade not fahrenheit and 270 degrees IS NOT less than 350F.

And then I realize that my oven is in centigrade not fahrenheit and 270 degrees IS NOT less than 350F. Panic, check on cookies, let the oven cool down, moving on.

alright, four minutes to make a glaze. confectioner's sugar and milk, could this be easier?

alright, four minutes to make a glaze. confectioner’s sugar and milk, could this be easier?

apparently yes, yes it can be.

apparently yes, yes it can be. oh look, i match my bowl.

annndd worth it. totally pinterest worthy.

annndd worth it. totally pinterest worthy.

 

So the blog has gone from photography to travel to food, basically. I’m okay with it. (Funny, today’s daily prompt was about origins of your blog – she was all photography six months ago! See my about me, now en français aussi!) It’ll be back to travel and photography this weekend – thesis on one day and adventures on the other! And my poor neglected camera can come back out of hiding.

Italia Part 3: Castillo & Bagno di Romagna

This is the third in a series of posts about my recent trip to Italy. Read Part 1 and Part 2!

When it comes to the city versus the country, I definitely consider myself a country mouse. I like having so much to do and try and see in the city, but I much prefer the quieter sanctuary of living with more trees than people. Preferably palm trees.

Sunday in Italy was a whole new level of country mouse though.

My friend’s family owns a farmhouse in their hometown, perched on a hill far from the downtown area. In the early morning, her dad picked out squash, zucchini, and herbs from the garden, and her mom put together a stunningly elegant lunch to bring up to the country house (shocking, I know). There’s no kitchen quite yet, so everything was cooked at the main house and carted up there. This time, lunch was prosecco (cin cin!), olives, homemade spaghetti with truffles (…once again my favorite meal in life), squash sliced into strips and cooked with herbs and zucchini, only to be followed by the actual meal of duck breast (I don’t even know how it was cooked but it was unreal). I was so. full.

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Nonno told me this was the “key to paradise,” isn’t he so adorable?

After lunch, my friend asked me if I wanted to take a walk around and see the area around the house. This was one ‘YEP’ I should have kept to myself… I was in a dress, work ballet flats, and a bathing suit, and sort of anticipated a ten minute walk at the most. Mmmm nope. I should have brought water, sunblock, and my inhaler at minimum, haha. I forgot that I had been silently praying on our drive to the house that the car could even make it uphill… thank the lord for manual transmissions. It was seriously a 50 degree gradient in some places. But it was all worth it, check our the scenery.

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Those long things growing on stalks are onions, and sunflowers grow for miles around here… in addition to the Tuscan vineyards of course.

At the top of the hill, embedded in the stone wall around the house, is a statue of Mary. We both crossed ourselves and said thank you once we got back up, haha.

NBA! haha

If you look closely you can see the handpainted NBA sign, haha.

The rest of the afternoon we spent being lazy at the neighbor’s pool. It’s a big saltwater infinity pool overlooking the rolling hills and sunflower of Castillo. I felt weird taking pictures because they don’t know me, but this is basically what I was looking at from the float. 🙂

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I couldn’t communicate well with most people there sadly, but I was able to tell them I was American. And I definitely understood when he told me that it’s okay, we can’t all be perfect. Haha

We took pictures on these stone benches on the top of a hill, and the neighbor came over to explain to me that they were actually placed there by Romans 2000 years ago, carried over from Africa. I can’t even take a sit without finding a piece of history, haha. While I was sitting there, my friend offered me a green bulb looking thing and told me to mangia. I’d never seen anything like it before, and it was a little oddly squishy. Her mom insisted I eat it too, and showed me how to tear into. I was like well. When in Rome? Literally? After one bite I said Ohhhhhhh my god. It was a fresh fig. The Italians thought it was hilarious…”haha! Americana! My got!”

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Apparently one pool was not enough for us on Sunday though! Something else on my life bucket list was visiting hot springs, and wouldn’t you know it, those Romans loved a good hot spring bath. Again, not super conducive to taking pictures but this is from their website. We closed the place down (11pm), then went into town for dinner (pizza! quattro stagione is my favorite) and walked around the town. Look at these sweet little mandala-like things lining the streets – they were all made of dried flowers and leaves.

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This should have been a two week long vacation, darn it.

Italia Part 2: Fano & the Mediterranean

This is the second of two posts on my recent trip to Italy. Read Part 1 here!

Saturday morning we woke up bright and early for our beach day. My friend and her mom and I drove over a mountain or two and headed east towards the Mediterranean! [note: apologies for minimal photo editing today, i’m out of time this week!]

Part of the issue with talking in three languages is that I miss a lot of what the plans are, so Saturday was full of surprises for me, despite my friend having told me in at least one of the languages what was happening. What I definitely understood was that there is abig weekend market in Fano, and I would be there. If you know me IRL, I can shop. We’ll call it a strength and a weakness.

il mare, what beautiful words to see.

il mare, what beautiful words to see.

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I was far too busy actually shopping to truly capture the feel of that market, and besides, I couldn’t ask in Italian if I could take pictures. (Puis-je prendre des photos? was a sentence I learned on day one in Brussels, especially after pissing off some fishmongers at Garde du Midi). I’d call it a success though – I may or may not be coming home with a new pair of Italian shoes. 🙂 I felt like Cinderella.

After the market it was time to head to our… campground? Here was surprise #1 of the day. I somehow completely missed that my friend’s family has a campsite on the sea, complete with a car trailer, and that I’d be meeting the extended family over lunch, haha. We showed up and this delicious plate was staring me in the face.

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It was made with all kinds of fish, from shrimp to clams to lobsterlike things to bony white fish from the market. In the top corner is a zucchini salad, and we also had green beans, white rice, and fresh Italian bread. Surprise #2 – Italian bread tastes completely different from home, it’s far less salty but equally as useful for sopping up tomatoes and herbs. Mmmm mmm. They got a kick out being able to talk to me in “francese,” but I liked listening to the Italian surround me while I was eating.

This was my first view of the Mediterranean.

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I did what any sensible ocean lover would do and walked right out to the water and swam. It only lasted about ten seconds before my friend was sent to calmly ‘rescue me’ because ‘people have died swimming after eating as much as I did beforehand.’ Seems a lot more severe than the ‘wait 20 minutes or you’ll have a stomach ache’ I was used to hearing, haha. I didn’t want to concern anyone though, so I “forced” myself to nap in the sun for a bit, haha. Did I mention how much I love this country yet?

We were on the beach for hours, collecting shells and playing with the one year old in our company. One thing that was different from home was the people walking up and down the beach selling things, like knock off purses, bracelets, hair wraps, and pinwheels. The only time I’ve really seen that was in Haiti (and I still wear the necklace I bought from that man to this day). Not only that but they’re walking around in jeans and long sleeve shirts! Eesh.

When we got hungry again, my friend took me to the best little piadina restaurant in Italy. I’m not even sure if it was in a town it was so remote. But surprise #3, piadina is REAL darn good.

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Especially when accompanied by Italian beer. I got prosciutto, rucola, and stracchino. Oh look at that, we’re back to the best meals of my life list. Deliciously filling and warm and gooey and quintessentially Italian.

I learned about six or seven words while I was there – per favore, ciao, grazie, si, francese, inglese, and machina, haha. Putting on my (miserable) Italian accent even allowed me to order a meal for myself by pronouncing the menu appropriately and throwing “e vino per favore” on the end. I was a little proud, though I’m sure the waitress choked back laughter when she heard me speak.

In my last post I mentioned our drive to the top of a mountain for a photo shoot. This time it was to see an ancient Roman tunnel carved out of the mountain. The plaque on the outside said 76 AD. Like… thirty years post Jesus, we’re talking. Italy, you’re SO OLD. But you’re aging so gracefully so it’s okay. 🙂

The tunnel was really small, but this picture should give you an idea of how fast you’re supposed to drive through it regardless.

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On the other side we pulled over because the sun was hitting the mountains just right. I love the color of the water and the sun together.

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Too tired to continue our day, we passed out as soon as we got home… again. I’ve never fit so much into a vacation and yet felt so relaxed! Tomorrow, I’ll tell you about the 16th century farmhouse we ate at, with an infinity pool next door. If it sounds like heaven… that’s because it was.

buona notte, italia

buona notte, italia

Italia Part 1: Asissi & Castillo

My poor little blog, how I missed you. I’m back on track, and back in Brussels!

Last Friday I woke up to complete darkness, caught a cab to the bus to the plane and watched the sunrise over Europe as I flew to Perugia, Italy. My wonderful, intelligent, lovely, hospitable friend from UConn invited me to her hometown so off I went. Editing these photos might take ages so I’ll do a couple mini photo essays… I took about 75 pictures a day, so I’m trying to keep it under control here.

my first european sunrise. mmmhm does 4am come early.

my first european sunrise. mmmhm does 4am come early.

Immediately after getting off the plane, she picked me up and we drove to Assisi.

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Francis is one of my favorite saints – being an animal lover and sharing his name with our Jesuit pope and all. (Go stags.) We visited his church and his tomb first. There were so many people, even some in their sweet little nun habits and monk robes. I didn’t take any pictures of them because I know I’d feel weird getting stopped for pictures in my work clothes. Anyway, St. Francis!

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We also visited the Basilica de Santa Chiara. St. Chiara was one of the first followers of St. Francis, and eventually founded the women’s order similar to the Franciscans. She also has a pretty pink basilica. And how about this, she was once a part of the church of San Damiano (Francis is also connected to this church), and that’s the saint my BXL house is related to (Kot St. Dam). Whoaaa full circle.

After the church-visiting, the temperature soared so we went into a little restaurant lined with stone walls. We hid from the thunderstorm and drank coffee and caught up on life.

When the rain stopped we hopped back in the car and drove the top of a mountain for a photo shoot. I mean really, she’s a girl after my own heart. Sometimes I can’t believe my own luck.

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jenclinton/072413jBut the clouds followed us uphill so we went home.

I can’t tell you how relieved I was that I could speak French to my friend’s parents – I was afraid that communication would be impossible. But even getting by on our rough around the edges ‘francese’ and Italian hand-speak (is that the official title? hmm) made for a much richer experience. Everyone got a kick out of talking to the American in anything other than English – I’m finding that a lot in Europe.

Now I try not to be too crazy with the hyperbole here, but for real. The best meal of my life was my first dinner here. It easily toppled my last favorite meal (which was a breakfast, if you’re curious) and was only matched by Sunday’s lunch. Handmade, hand rolled pasta, filled with chicken, beef, and pork, topped with a tomato sauce from home-grown roma tomatoes, basil, fennel, and herbs de provence. I can still taste it. Not to mention the caprese salad, salami and other meats we cut ourselves, and buffalo mozzarella picked up from the nearby farm that morning. The wine was made by a friend. My life, the movie. Welcome to it.

I’m only slightly ashamed to admit that by the end of the weekend her Italian mother told me I had a good appetite (read: I ate wayyy too much). We finished with a couple glasses of Pastis and then walked into the downtown area to meet up with more family. I’ve adopted her Italian grandfather, watch for him in tomorrow’s pictures. He offered me coffee, a cigarette, and gelato within three minutes, so I took him up on the first one (it was easily after 10pm, and I don’t drink caffeine even in the morning. Oops.)* I passed out pretty hard when I got home anyway.

I could get used to it here.

 

*My reaction to nearly every “do you want to….” was pretty much YEP before the sentence was even finished. It got me into hot water when I yep’ed a hike when all I had was ballet flats, no sunscreen and minimal shade… but we’ll save that story for tomorrow.

 

For the record, Italy pretty much took her own pictures. Only a few got some stylized editing on here, most were just exposure fixes.